GWU progressive student group demands 'fair jobs'

The Progressive Student Union at George Washington University delivered a list of demands for "fair jobs" to the office of the president.

The list of demands includes a "living wage," healthcare access, and collective bargaining for university employees "at all levels."

George Washington University President Thomas LeBlanc agreed to meet with the Progressive Student Union in response to the group’s Oct. 1 list of demands for increased university employee benefits “at all levels.”

Noah Wexler, a member of the Progressive Student Union Coordinating Committee, told Campus Reform on Wednesday that LeBlanc’s office responded to PSU by the student group’s imposed deadline of Oct. 10. LeBlanc offered to schedule a meeting with PSU and other administrators, but a specific time and date for the meeting has not yet been set.

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“The letter presents to GW’s administration several critical problems that members of [Fair Jobs GW] have identified after conducting hundreds of conversations with our friends in various working staffs on campus,” the GW PSU wrote on its blog, The Wrench. “Following the letter is a list of demands that we are urging the university to address. These ten demands range from pay to healthcare and concern employees at all levels of GW’s working community.”

“We spent the last two years researching these issues and communicating with different working groups on campus,” Wexler told Campus Reform, noting that PSU spoke with the Division of Operations, conducted research on companies with whom GW has contracts, and talked to university employees. 

“Nearly all of the working staff that approached us believes that the policy change proposals outlined in the letter are overdue,” Wexler said. 

Paying a “living wage” and allowing for collective bargaining are key demands made by PSU. 

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“I don’t think it would benefit me as a student employee,” GW student employee Epiphany Ramirez explained when Campus Reform asked if she supports unionization. “Our working environment is really great, most [federal work study] supervisors definitely understand school comes first, so they really don’t unload a lot of unnecessary work on us.”

Ramirez works at GW’s Gelman Library, where she said she is paid $13.25 per hour and receives an annual raise. 

“Both departments have given me the resources so that if I feel I am working more than those hours or that I feel I am being paid less than I should, I know exactly who to go to and how to work things through,” Sonia Nemani, an undergraduate learning assistant and peer tutor at GW, told Campus Reform

The Progressive Student Union also demanded that GW managers be former GW employees, instead of employees managed by third-party contractors. 

”Instead of managing its own staff, GW hires contractors to manage staff directly employed by GW,” Wexler told Campus Reform. “This makes it more difficult for employees to raise issues with the university administration and it creates an unnecessarily wasteful bureaucracy.”

“My boss graduated from GW, both undergrad and graduate,” Ramirez told Campus Reform. ”He worked the same position as I did undergrad and now is our supervisor, which shows upward mobility,” Ramirez continued, explaining that she does not think many of PSU’s demands are applicable.

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Healthcare accessibility is included in the list of demands as well.

”Everyone who draws a wage from GW needs to be provided the same health and dental insurance options, with the exception of undergraduate student workers, who must be offered an additional subsidy of at least $1,500 per year,” according to the PSU’s Fair Jobs Contract.

“These positions do not give me employee benefits like sick days, or health care,” Nemani told Campus Reform. “But, in no way would I expect them to.” 

“I know that if both departments had to give me employee benefits like everyone else, they would not be able to hire me and this amazing program that I and other students have benefited from would not exist,” Nemani said. 

The Oct. 1 letter concludes by telling LeBlanc, “if you would rather not talk to us, you are effectively sending a message to the GW community that the livelihoods of workers and students are not of concern to you.” 

”If this is the case, we very soberly remind you that members of the GW community are prepared to respond accordingly. If you don’t stand up for the workers, then we will.”

“The plan hatched by myself, other students, and workers, has been to hold a series of forums explaining what is happening to the general student body,” Wexler explained when asked about what PSU will do to stand up for workers if President LeBlanc does not respond.

LeBlanc’s office did not respond to a request for comment in time for press.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @abigailmarone